Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola
Mishawaka, Indiana, USA
March 10
Kevin Gosztola is a multimedia editor for He will be serving as an intern for The Nation Magazine during the spring in 2011. His work can be found on OpEdNews, The Seminal,, and a blog on Alternet called "Moving Train Media." He is part of CMN News, which produces a weekly podcast or radio show on Talk Shoe. He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who graduated with a Film/Video B.A. degree from Columbia College Chicago in the Spring 2010. In April 2010, he co-organized a major arts & media summit called "Art, Access & Action," which explored the intersection of politics, art and media and was supported by Free Press.

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Editor’s Pick
JUNE 16, 2010 3:17AM

Obama's BP Speech: Is the Gulf Half-Empty or Half-full?

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Nearly sixty days after an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed eleven workers, injured seventeen others and created an oil gusher that has been spewing black clouds of oil ever since, President Obama delivered an Oval Office address with the hope of stemming the flow of anger among Americans.



President Obama explained that this is "already the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." Seemingly forgetting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he added, "Unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it is not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years."



The term continued to be "spill" despite the fact that it should now be accurately referred to as a "leak." It isn't a spill; if a coffee cup falls over and coffee spills, it doesn't continue to produce coffee for hours and hours after it spills. If a coffee cup could do that, there'd be no reason for people to buy over-priced cups of coffee from Starbucks.



And, actually, "leak" is too timid. This is not a "leak" or "spill." This is a "gusher." It's a hemorrhage. The planet is hemorrhaging and those at the top who are running the cleanup effort have no idea how to make the planet clot so the hemorrhaging will stop.



President Obama essentially broke the address up into three parts: the cleanup effort, the recovery and restoration of the Coast, and steps being taken to make sure another disaster like this never happens again.



Outlined by President Obama was the fact that "millions of gallons of oil have already been removed from the water through burning, skimming, and other collection methods" and that "over five and a half million feet of boom has been laid across the water to block and absorb the approaching oil. " Obama also explained that the federal government has "approved the construction of new barrier islands in Louisiana to try and stop the oil before it reaches the shore" and is also "working with Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to implement creative approaches to their unique coastlines."



President Obama claimed, "if something isn't working, we want to hear about it" and "if there are problems in the operation, we will fix them." There was no mention of the fact that fancy paper towels are being used in the cleanup effort--that cleanup technology seems to be very simple and inadequate. (Perhaps, if relief wells fail, BP and all those involved in the cleanup efforts will try to shove a ginormous tampon into the floor of the ocean to stop the flow.)



There was also no mention of the Corexit dispersant being used, which Pro Publica reports has been removed from a list of products approved for use on oil spills in the U.K and is "more toxic and less effective on south Louisiana crude than other EPA-approved dispersants."



Obama's talk of focusing on recovery and restoration becomes even more hollow when you consider further information on the use of Corexit to disperse the oil:



What's more, the EPA and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to use these dispersants underwater near the ruptured well. They've called it a "novel approach [31]" that will ultimately use less dispersant than if the chemicals were applied on the surface. The undersea application, however, is not the recommended [32] application [33] procedure laid out in the EPA's information on Corexit.



The EPA has acknowledged that dispersants entail "an environmental trade-off [34]," and that their long-term effects on the environment are unknown. It has promised to continue monitoring their use, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is working with BP [35] to get less toxic dispersants to the site as soon as possible.



On behalf of the fisherman whose way of living have been completely under attack as a result of this disaster, Obama said, "Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness. And this fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party."



However, this meeting is only scheduled to last 20 minutes. That is hardly enough time to properly address the situation and use the bully pulpit of the presidency to force BP to spend less time trying to save their image and more time trying to save the ecosystem in the Gulf.



If President Obama's only going to spend 20 minutes, then he should just call Tony Hayward and "ask" him his question about a third-party account and the cleanup. He should just friend BP on YouTube and then engage in a chat in the comments thread of one of BP's videos that, as Jon Stewart said last week, treats Americans like they are victims of domestic abuse.



Also, as Chris Matthews pointed out just after the address, no specifics were laid out on how this account to be "administered by an independent, third party" will be organized and properly handled:



"...[Obama] never mentioned what power he has as chief executive of this country to make [BP] understand they need to put this escrow account in third party hands. Is he gonna litigate? Is he gonna file an amicus brief with a class action suit, wait seven years for this to happen or is he really gonna demand it happens? He said, "I can ask them to do this." I'm amazed he just says he has that power..."



That President Obama thinks the American people will believe he has this situation under control when he intends to still ask BP and not make demands of them is confounding. The government should be past asking. It should be discussing accountability and consequences for the massive cover-up that has taken place in the Gulf, which has contributed to an increase in the devastation in the Gulf.



But, there was no mention of jail time for those responsible and no mention either of a more feasible option, debarment, a move that could "bar BP from receiving government contracts" and "cost the company billions and end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields."



President Obama casually explained that he was assured everything would be fine, that limited offshore drilling "would be absolutely safe" and "the proper technology would be in place and the necessary precautions would be taken." Who or what agency told him this and why does it seem that what they had to say was taken at face value? Given the reservations environmentalists, scientists, and engineers have had about drilling, why doesn't it seem those people were talking to the president when he made a decision to open up limited offshore drilling?



Shakeups at Mineral Management Services (MMS) were detailed as if to show that regulatory agencies will now handle and regulate corporations like BP properly. But, given the way the EPA has handled the Corexit dispersant and the reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) may not be properly updating their standards on the levels of chemical exposure that cleanup workers are allowed to be exposed to, should we really believe oversight is going to hold oil corporations accountable from this point on?



If one considers Jason Leopold’s recent investigative report on BP’s Alaska oilfield and its safety and the whistleblowing on risks related to the BP Atlantis oil rig (which the Interior Department is allowing to continue operations), one must question how BP is conducting operations all over this country. One must also ask if other oil companies are getting away with safety issues as well.



Absolutely no portion of the speech addressed the reality that BP is stemming the flow of information in the Gulf and the reality that "journalists in the gulf are now dealing with a hybrid informational apparatus that does not reflect government's legally mandated bias toward openness and transparency."



If President Obama really wanted to address the way the disaster is being handled, he would have asked why BP has been permitted to invest and expend valuable time, money and resources on public relations and use the National Guard to help protect the corporation's image and increasingly bleak future instead of putting a hundred percent of BP's available manpower, equipment, and assets into cleanup operations. If he really wanted to give an address that was not simply void of specifics and instead filled with platitudes and great speechifying, President Obama would have said his administration will condemn any further attempts by BP to block scientists' access to information and take up air time disinforming and misinforming the public on the extent of the damage in the Gulf.



Keith Olbermann characterized the situation correctly, "We needed to hear the president articulating the anger of this nation at this fiasco, at this ongoing and unstoppable fiasco in the Gulf."



Something needed to be given to lift Americans' spirits, to make Americans believe that this could be the critical juncture where American government not only makes the transition to pushing for a clean, renewable energy future in this country but also a future where corporations are not just simply allowed to reign supreme and go unchecked.



In the end, all Obama could give Americans was a prayer, a short anecdote about shrimpers who are joined by community during shrimping season for a "Blessing of the Fleet" that involves clergy from many different religions praying for the safety and success of the men and women who will be going out to sea.



Obama's message at the end of his speech was not only will God "remove all obstacles and dangers" but He will "be with us always" and "even in the midst of the storm."



If this was what we Americans are to hang our hopes on, we can reasonably expect that this disaster will continue until way past Christmas. We can count on BP to still be trying to halt the flow of oil when boys and girls are looking forward to Santa Clause coming to town.



This disaster is not in need of a clergyman or a preacher. It's not in need of a benevolent, kind and understanding man. It's not in need of a collegiate and professorial person or someone who was quite the corporate candidate for president in 2008.




This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty. And, when Obama becomes that champion ---someone closer to the trust-busting President Teddy Roosevelt than President Grover Cleveland, who was president when the Supreme Court granted personhood to corporations.



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"Hemorrhage" is the word that best describes what is happening in the Gulf. It's natural progression is exsanguination -- bleeding to death. Also an accurate description of what can be expected to occur in the Gulf.
So, action is needed, agreed, but .......

A speach is made to the world about what is going to be said to a company before speaking to the company 1st. Why?

A demand is made for compensation from a company that has already independently agreed to compensate. Why?

Criticism is being made of the company that is endeavouring to do something about the mess, despite the fact that the government were not interested in the fact that the same company felt the directions given by government as to where they should drill would make life more difficult should the inevitable accident happen. (we really do not live in a perfect world). Why?

It has rightly been said that the person who never made a mistake is the person who never made anything. The questions posed here need to be thought about, and it maybe that the answers may be too close for comfort.

America uses far more oil per head than the rest of the world dreams of. To fulfill this disproportionate desire for the use of oil will mean greater risks being taken by those who are working for ...... YOU, the American people. Does America really need to have so much oil when others, not just 3rd world countries, can do without.
Another serious problem is "the dispersants." No toxicity studies??
As Yoda would say: "Do or do not. There is no TRY."

Time for action. Obama's legacy will be judged on results.

Fingers crossed.
I'm of about hearing about who will pay. We all know that we will pay. Don't we have an employment problem in this country? Put some people to work. If "Oh Yes We Can" then get yo ass on it and quit talking about it.
Yesterday, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post was taking questions on the BP oil disaster and the cleanup response. He responded to my questions:

"Access to Information, Blocking of Media

What's your reaction to the way that BP has been doing everything it can to stop the flow of information needed to mount a comprehensive and effective cleanup response? Why shouldn't the media be outraged that there have been instances where BP is preventing them from covering the impact of the oil disaster properly? And, how should the American people be processing this? What should Americans do when they go down to the beaches to take pictures with their cellphones of the damage and are told by the National Guard or BP contractors they cannot take pictures because it might damage BP's image? - Kevin

* –
June 15, 2010 1:38 PM

Eugene Robinson writes:

The American people should be fuming. And as for the media, I see new stories every day about instances of BP stonewalling. If BP believes this is the way to protect the company's image...
– June 15, 2010 1:52 PM"

Here's the link if you want to see more. Some great questions were asked especially by people I think are from the UK.
Stellaa, nicely said and concisely put.

Ablonde, the speeches Obama has given use war and epidemic metaphors. I think it's time to use metaphors like hemorrhage and exsanguination. That's where this is headed. The scientists on the government panel just released information that indicates an Exxon Valdez spill could be happening in the Gulf every four days.

jonmagee, if you are suggesting Americans who are angry with BP need to change their lifestyle and get off oil or else more of these kinds of disasters will continue to occur, I don't disagree.

m.j.r., thanks for the link.

holmescc, okay, let's put people to work. But, they have to be allowed to wear respirators.
"This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty."

People sovereignty will happen when we take back our country from the politicians on both sides of the aisle that are ruled by corporate sovereignty. If we want people sovereignty we need to stop waiting for people who don't care about us or this planet to take a real lead. We can start by demanding what we want and refusing to be appeased by false promises that sound good. Back in the 70's, my brother converted a 1960 Rambler, from gas fueled to grain alcohol fueled. There is a quirky animal doctor dude here in Maine who runs his cars on recycled cooking oil from deep fryers. For effort and ingenuity, we could make a peaceful revolution just by stopping our "demand" in demand and supply - but be warned, the government will not be happy with us and we will be regulated...they prefer us dependent on them and believing their promises. We have handed them our lives for false security.
If energy policies change as a result of this disaster to more green technology, this will be looked upon as a turning point. If we are all dead by the time that happens because we don't perceive the nature of the effect of this disaster on humanity, what difference will it make. BP is actually the perpetrator, but they unleashed the murderer and it is still murdering everyday, they seem to have no more control over it than we do.

So, how to fix this? If I were Obama, I would be contacting every person in every country on this planet that has the background, experience and the remotest idea of what to do here, put them in a room and see what they can come up with. I would not let anyone else "take charge" and filter any efforts, I would not exclude anyone, it is the planet we are talking about here. We have done something terrible and we do not understand the ramifications yet. We think we do, but I do not think we really do. This needs to be a global solution, no protracted, weeks, months, years of deciding we have a problem. We already have it. We need to coordinate, get the real think tank fired up and the president should sound the charge.

I would like to think that humanity would want to throw water on it's burning house, before it reaches rubble stage and we are all put out for good. R
I disagree with the way you phrased things, but you make many good points. It seems to me that you should be busy emailing and phoning the White House and your other elected officials about these points you've made. Given the detail of obvious careful consideration and study on the policy issues, I'd recommend that you actually schedule personal visits to your Congressman's and Senators' offices.
BP is the fourth largest corporation in the world. Roots go back to 1901 when the Shah of Iran granted BP oil exploration rights in the Middle East. In 1923 BP secretly gave 5,000 pounds to Winston Churchill to allow them to monopolize Persian oil resources (this is true). In the 1950’s Iran nationalized the company and BP didn’t like that .

BP got U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to authorize the CIA to join the British government in a coup in Iran (this is true). BP prevailed and developed an international consortium to run the company (this is true). Silly Iranians. They thought their oil reserves belonged to them.

In 1959 BP moved into Alaska and the North Sea . In 1978 BP bought a controlling interest in Standard Oil of Ohio. In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran after the Islamic Revolution. He tore up all the oil contracts and wrote a new one with BP. It gave BP 90% of the profits and 10% went to him (this is all true). You remember how much he loved the United States?

In the 1980’s BP got Prime Minister Thatcher to sell all governmental shares of BP to private investors. A Kuwaiti consortium tried to block this; however, the British government prevailed (what else is new?) Standard Oil of California and Gulf had merged in 1984 and the U.S. government smelled anti-trust so BP bought part of them and established themselves in Louisiana .

BP also acquired Amoco, Castrol, and ARCO (had to do something with their cash.) It was in 2001 that BP adopted their “Beyond Petroleum” campaign. Oh yes, BP also bought most of Russia’s oil (50% interest with three Russian billionaires owning the other 50%) reserves for future use .

So we have a 100 year history of a company that will do anything for profit, and Obama doesn't get it? These guys (BP) don't play nice unless there is a profit involved. Way past time for discussion with these crooks. Too late for prayer too.
"This disaster is not in need of a clergyman or a preacher."
"This disaster needs a champion of people sovereignty over corporate sovereignty."
I have to go to work now, would someone please email the White House with this quote from your excellent article for me?